Dental issues and needs change with every stage of life, and senior citizens have unique dental concerns that may require special attention. In fact, many people aren’t aware that it’s common for individuals over the age of 60 to encounter a second stage of cavity prone years.
While dry mouth is not triggered by aging, many seniors encounter dry mouth as a side effect of medications for conditions such as asthma or allergies, high cholesterol, anxiety or depression, high blood pressure, or Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases. For this reason and because of other potential interactions, it’s important to keep your dentist apprised of all medications you take. Patients with dry mouth are more likely to have bad breath and are also more likely to form cavities. Here are some recommendations your dentist may make to help you cope with and alleviate dry mouth:
- Try oral moisturizers, which usually come in the form of a spray or mouthwash and are available over-the-counter.
- Talk to your doctor about changing any medications that may be contributing to dry mouth.
- Hydrate. Especially if you tend towards dry mouth, your mouth needs to be constantly lubricated. Make an effort to drink more water, even if you aren’t feeling thirsty.
- Stimulate saliva production with sugar-free lozenges or gum.
- Try using a humidifier when you sleep to keep the air moist.
- Certain foods can irritate dry mouths and make them even drier. Avoid acidic fruit juices, alcohol, coffee, tea, or carbonated soft drinks.
- Talk to your dentist about applying fluoride or a varnish to help protect your teeth from cavities.
Bacteria in plaque can cause gum (periodontal) disease. Gum disease is especially prominent in older adults because the first stages of periodontal disease are painless, so gum disease may not be caught until it is fairly advanced, especially if the person does not visit the dentist regularly for check-ups. If gum disease is not treated, the gums can pull away from the teeth, creating small pockets where food and plaque may collect. At its most advanced stages, gum disease can lead to tooth loss as the gums, bones, and ligaments that support the dental framework are worn away by the disease. Fortunately, if gum disease is caught early, it is easily treated.
The American Cancer Society reports that every year, roughly 35,000 cases of mouth, throat, and tongue cancer are diagnosed. Amongst these cancers, the average age at which a patient is diagnosed is 62. While early stages of mouth cancer often don’t come with many symptoms, patients with more advanced cancers may experience open sores, patches of white or red in the mouth, or prolonged changes to the lips, tongue, and lining of the mouth. Oral cancer can be deadly, and early detection is essential, so it’s very important for patients in the target age group to visit the dentist at least twice a year for an oral cancer examination.
American Dental Association
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Dental issues and needs change with every stage of life, and seniors have unique dental concerns that may require special attention. Contact your dentist today to ensure good oral health.